WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange High School’s Advanced Placement art students are back at the West Orange Arts Center gallery after a two-year pandemic hiatus, their work hanging in the gallery for the next month. The show is run almost entirely by the nine senior AP art students from WOHS, with help from the West Orange Arts Council; students will be in charge of the gallery on Saturdays while the show is on display.
“They had to come and hang their own work,” AP art teacher Heather Young said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at a reception at the WOAC on March 19. “They learn how to space it out and write an artist statement. Every Saturday they’re here to greet people and run the gift shop. That’s good experience for them.”
AP art students have to complete a portfolio with a theme by the end of the year; most of the artwork in the WOAC gallery is a part of those projects. Abigail Nolan’s theme is high school memories, her pieces depicting real people and places in her life. One painting, painted with acrylics, features the faces of her friends, each of which is monochromatic. Nolan said in an interview with the Chronicle at the reception that, as the painting came together, it became a game.
“I was carrying the canvas around when I was working on it, and people would make a game out of it, looking for people they recognized,” Nolan said. “They would say, ‘That’s Zach; that’s Michelle.’ So I thought, ‘Good, that does actually look like Michelle.’”
Nolan also painted the kitchen in her house, her childhood bedroom and her sister on a family trip to Ireland. Not having been in an art classroom for much of the last two years until recently, she’s excited to be back to normal.
“It was less hands-on because we didn’t have teachers there with us or access to the good materials,” she said about art classes during the height of the pandemic. “I was doing mostly pencil drawings. It was hard to go from almost nothing to working on all of this.”
Mariana Simpson, whose portfolio theme is portraits, used colored pencils, pastels and mixed-media in her portraits. A self-professed lover of color, Simpson said she had to learn how to restrain herself instead of adding too much to a piece when it doesn’t need it.
“I refuse to throw anything away,” Simpson said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “If I think I can use it in something, I save it. The hardest thing was to learn to stop adding to something when it was done.”
She also learned how to use new materials. Most of Simpson’s earlier work was done in colored pencil, but she branched out to teach herself how to incorporate paint and oil pastels. She’s going to be a science major in college but has done commissioned murals and is planning on eventually opening an Etsy shop where she can sell her art.
“For science you have to go to school and take the classes, but with art you can do what you want a little more,” Simpson said. “So I was willing to make that sacrifice.”
She wasn’t the only one whose portfolio features portraits. E.K. Kong’s art does as well; her work in the show are portraits of the people closest to her. Kong’s work in the WOAC gallery includes portraits of a friend, her two brothers, her parents and herself. Most are done in one color. She drew her father working at a computer, her middle brother playing video games and her youngest brother splashing in a pool. She drew her mother working in a garden.
“I used reference photos so I could draw them how I see them,” she said. “Since my mom is the most colorful one of us, I used watercolor for hers.”
Kong’s youngest brother is autistic, so she used real puzzle pieces to represent the symbol typically used for autism awareness. His portrait turned out to be her family’s favorite piece in the exhibit.
“When I showed them, they were ecstatic,” Kong said. “My brother said, ‘Oh, that’s me,’ so that’s a good sign.”
Michelle Kawior didn’t center her work on portraits, instead choosing to depict feminism told through the lens of a woman getting ready to go out. One is a close-up of someone applying lipstick; another shows a woman sitting in front of a mirror, while a third piece is a close-up of a pair of boots.
“I like the idea of femininity and being a woman and the things that come with that, because there’s so much,” Kawior said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “My favorite thing to draw is women. I like playing with how to present things in a beautiful way. Art is a way to translate that even something as mundane as a pair of boots can be beautiful.”
Other artists in the show are Anna Akerblom, Amelie Eder, Ian Gustavson, Olivia Horne and Nia Papamichalaki. The show will be on display for the public to view at the WOAC through April 23.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic